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Personal Ambitions Don’t Bring Happiness

The fulfillment of our personal ambitions in life is very seldom what brings us happiness. On the contrary, it usually arouses an entire group of new ambitions. On the other hand, when we immerse ourselves in our duties both as human beings, to our families and our associates, and as Bahá’ís toward the Cause of God and serving it to the best of our ability in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we begin to know what happiness means. (Shoghi Effendi, letter dated 23 May 1956 in Family Life, #108)

As a recovering work, service and activity addict, I’ve had to learn this the hard way.  I was into my 60’s before I could see that my ambitions weren’t bringing me happiness.  Keeping busy filled a lot of time and helped me feel productive.  Work, service and activities kept the grief of the past from overwhelming the present and it also drove people away because I didn’t make time for relationship-building.

When I was turning 60, I did some research about what to expect from the next decade, expecting to find a lot of information on planning for retirement, but instead what I found were a lot of articles talking about the importance of relationships and health.  According to some research, if we don’t have nurturing relationships by this time in our lives, we are more likely suffer more complex health challenges and to die earlier.  The more I studied addiction, the more this made sense.  Current thinking is that addiction isn’t caused by the thing we’re addicted to – it’s caused by lack of relationships and using other substances and activities to fill the holes in our souls.

So I was happy to find this quote in my reading today, because it reminded me that instead of focusing on achieving my own ambitions to the exclusion of all else, there were other things I could do to have more balance and moderation in my life:

  • immerse myself in my duties towards myself (including self-care)
  • immerse myself in my duties towards my family and friends (including more contact, more love, more forgiveness)
  • immerse myself in my duties as a Bahá’í toward the Cause of God (including more prayer and meditation; and striving to put the Teachings into action)
  • serving the Cause of God to the best of my ability in the circumstances in which I find myself (including reading my reality and aligning my service to the will of God instead of forcing myself into activity meant for someone else)

Being reminded of where true happiness lies, I can focus my attention away from my own ambitions and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy

 

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Not My Capacity, But God’s 

Do you think it is the teachers who make converts and change human hearts? No, surely not. They are only pure souls who take the first step, and then let the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh move them and make use of them. If any one of them should even for a second consider his achievements as due to his own capacities, his work is ended, and his fall starts. This is in fact the reason why so many competent souls have after wonderful services suddenly found themselves absolutely impotent and perhaps thrown aside by the Spirit of the Cause as useless souls. The criterion is the extent to which we are ready to have the Will of God operate through us.  Stop being conscious of your frailties, therefore; have a perfect reliance upon God; let your heart burn with the desire to serve His mission and proclaim His call; and you will observe how eloquence and the power to change human hearts will come as a matter of course.  (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahai Administration, p. 26)

I absolutely have a love/hate relationship to this quote.  On the one hand it reminds me to”stop being conscious of my frailties and have perfect reliance on God” (about which I need frequent reminders) and on the other, it makes me despair that in my burnout and adrenal exhaustion, this might mean I’m one of those “many competent souls have after wonderful services suddenly found themselves absolutely impotent and perhaps thrown aside by the Spirit of the Cause as useless souls.” I know that these kinds of thoughts are just another way to beat myself up with the Writings and cause me to fail to recognize my nobility. In that moment, I need to “have perfect reliance on God” that what I’m doing is enough.  This is one of my most frequent tests these days.

Once I can set aside this consciousness of my frailties, there are certain things I need to do, according to this quote.  I need to:

  • let go of any belief that my achievements are due to my own capacity
  • be ready to have the Will of God operate through me
  • have a perfect reliance upon God
  • let my heart burn with the desire to serve His mission and proclaim His call
  • take the first step, and then let the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh move me and make use of me

Finally, I love when promises are embedded in quotes.  In this case we’re promised that if we let go of all consciousness of our frailties and do these things, we will observe how eloquence and the power to change human hearts will come as a matter of course.  Don’t we all want it to be that easy?

Knowing that God keeps His promises when do what’s asked of me, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Forgive

 

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Service May Look Different if You’re an Introvert

A unity in diversity of actions is called for, a condition in which different individuals will concentrate on different activities, appreciating the salutary effect of the aggregate on the growth and development of the Faith, because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing.  (The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 80)

Recently I’ve come to accept myself as I am, not as I thought I wanted to be.  For example, for most of my Bahá’í life, I’ve immersed myself in the Writings and in the letters of the House of Justice and tried valiantly to align myself with what I understood the guidance to mean.  I drove myself to the point of exhaustion and burn out, trying to put every injunction into effect, truly believing that if I didn’t do everything being asked of all of us, I would personally be responsible to God for delaying the advent of the Most Great Peace.  Truly.  I believed this!

Then someone reminded me that humanity (including me) has been invited to the banquet table of the Lord.  All the Writings put together can be seen as a giant potluck meal and all I have to do is take what I can eat.  If I put more than that on my plate, it will be wasted and do me no good.  As an extreme introvert, I’m more comfortable writing than speaking; I prefer the solitude of a small circle of people, preferably one-on-one because social engagements leave me feeling exhausted and drained.  Much though I want to participate in the core activities, I feel best when doing activities that can be performed alone, and that’s OK.  There’s room in this Faith for all of us, doing the best we can, serving in ways that are aligned with the will of God and not done to please others.

Knowing that God loves me and appreciates every effort I make in service, I can stop judging myself so harshly, and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Fear into Faith:  Overcoming Anxiety

 

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True Service 

Let each one of you become the servant of the other; let each sacrifice himself for the sake of the other. (From a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá—translated from the Persian, from Give me Thy Grace to Serve Thy Loved Ones, Compilation for the 2018 Counsellors’ Conference, [15])

I’m absolutely amazed at how creative people around the world have been since the start of the pandemic.  People self-isolating are finding ways to use technology to stay in touch, have children’s classes, and junior youth programs, study circles and devotional gatherings.  Because they are online, they can embrace larger numbers of people.  Parents at home are more receptive to encouraging their children and youth to participate or even to get involved with the community building process themselves.  People are reaching out to friends, neighbors and acquaintances more often, especially those in places where the numbers of people infected with the COVID-19 virus are high.

This week, my landlord (who owns many apartment buildings across a large geographic area, called to see if I was OK and to determine if there was anything I needed.  One of my neighbors dropped off some home-made muffins and this morning, my 80-year old neighbor called to say she was going grocery shopping and asked if I needed anything.  People all over the world are becoming servants to one another, and sacrificing themselves for their neighbors.  Never before in the history of mankind, has everyone in the whole world agreed to take a certain course of action, for the betterment of the world.  This will have long term implications and bring us a lot closer to the longed-for Most Great Peace.

Knowing the world has taken a giant step forward, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy

 

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A New Way of Looking at Service

Every aspect of a person’s life is an element of his or her service to Bahá’u’lláh:  the love and respect one has for one’s parents, the pursuit of one’s education, the nurturing of good health, the acquiring of a trade or profession, one’s behaviour towards others and the upholding of a high moral standard, one’s marriage and the bringing up of one’s children; one’s activities in teaching the Faith and the building up the strength of the Baha’i community . . . and, not least, to take time each day to read the Writings and say the Obligatory Prayer, which are the source of growing spiritual strength, understanding, and attachment to God.  (Universal House of Justice, to the European Baha’i youth Council, 7 December 1992)

Where has this quote been all my Baha’i life?  I realized when reading it, how narrow was my understanding of service.  I used to think that service was just participating in the core activities and raising up the community building process within our clusters.  I can see how I would get that impression because study of the Ruhi curriculum teaches us that this is what means to walk a path of service, and when the Statistics Officer contacts me to see what I’ve been doing, these are the only things they want to track.  Living in an inactive cluster and being an introvert, happier teaching and serving in an online environment, I have beaten myself up mercilessly for not being a good Baha’i, because I’m not currently serving in my cluster the way I think I “should”.  So I was very grateful to find this quote today!

I relate better to bullet points, which I can use as a checklist, so let’s take these one at a time:

  1. the love and respect one has for one’s parents
  2. the pursuit of one’s education
  3. the nurturing of good health
  4. the acquiring of a trade or profession
  5. one’s behaviour towards others
  6. the upholding of a high moral standard
  7. one’s marriage
  8. the bringing up of one’s children
  9. one’s activities in teaching the Faith
  10. building up the strength of the Baha’i community
  11. reading the Writings
  12. saying the Obligatory Prayer

Were any of these a surprise to you?  I was certainly surprised that they are all aspects of service.  I was happy to see that nurturing good health is also part of service, because of course, we can’t serve when we aren’t healthy.  I love belonging to such a compassionate religion and am grateful for the House of Justice elaborating on this issue!

Knowing that service is much broader than just “walking a path”, I can relax and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read through today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy

 

 

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